Faith leaders who have responsibility for journeying with and counseling others will tell you that the yoke of leadership is not light. Listening to President Obama give his victory speech this past week, my pastor’s heart was called into service. I don’t always agree with the President, but I believe he is a man who understands like few people in the world the awesome responsibility of leadership – I see it in his eyes, and hear it in his voice. This is a man who “gets it;” who deeply, intimately understands the burden.
I was reminded of the President’s words during the campaign when he said of reproductive health, “This is not just a – a health issue, it’s an economic issue for women. It makes a difference.” President Obama understands that it’s impossible for most women to separate their health from their personal economics. I believe he knows that a woman’s access to an abortion – in short, her reproductive destiny – should not be contingent upon her economic status.
But while women were a huge voting bloc in an election where women’s health and abortion care were front and center – indeed, where those issues determined the outcome of several races – President Obama faces an uphill battle with a Congress that remains recalcitrant around reproductive justice. And that doesn’t take into account those in state legislatures around the country who are no doubt chomping at the bit to inundate us with measures that further restrict access to abortion care, contraception, and culturally competent and age-appropriate sex education.
In continuing rough economic waters, women across the country are counting on their new state health insurance exchanges or Medicaid insurance to help them with health care costs. Coverage for abortion care is no exception. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice will be working to ensure that all women have access to the health care they need, regardless of whether their insurance is public or private. Every woman—regardless of her economic status—should be able to make decisions according to her own conscience and religious beliefs. We will continue to call for more access, more education, and more resources for those in need, in keeping with the prophetic demand of our faith traditions to offer compassion and seek justice.
In a pastoral role, we should listen more than we talk, and open a path for people to arrive at the decisions that are true for them. In essence, our role is to create an environment where individuals’ moral agency is bolstered and lifted up, not questioned and manipulated.
Pastoral care is not the job of the person in the Oval Office, nor that of any Member of Congress (as we are often painfully aware), but it’s also not their jobs to make it more difficult for women to make decisions about their own bodies, their health care, and the economic future of themselves and their families. It is their job to listen – especially now to an electorate that sent a clear message that reproductive health is an important decision point when voting.
Women spoke loudly with their votes in this election, and men who care about reproductive justice joined them. It’s time that Congress and the White House sit down and really listen.